1. Compact living. (Continuing my fourth year…) That’s the pledge of not-buying-new and not using up as many resources as possible, a la most Americans. Conserving electricity, water, recycling, thrifting, gleaning, getting rid of stuff and living more simply, eating locally, less waste in food and avoiding excess packaging, making do or doing without, debt reduction and cash living…all that kind of thing. Just more of it. Interested? We’re a dedicated bunch — more than 10K of us yak regularly at The Compact. Join us.
2. Savings Challenge: This is the year of saving $25,000. That is, we will be $25,000 richer a year from now. Doesn’t mean a pile of gold, my friends, but it does mean we will pay down bills, and thus save in interest payments. We’ll add to our 401K and get the company match, which is free money. We’ll make donations, save pennies, and avoid avoidable fees, and in the end, by Dec. 31, 2011, we will be $25K better off, somehow. I will tell you that this is already going well. As of Jan. 1, I made a few adjustments to bills that put us close to the $1,000 mark already — by paying off a bill with a high interest rate and making a donation and changing our insurance coverage. Look for occasional posts on this topic, not as bragging, but more as crampons on the icy slope toward financial freedom. And believe you me, if we can do it — with 5 kids, two divorces and years of struggling single-parenthood, assorted debts, college loans, and just one income — anyone can. By the way, I made a spreadsheet for this.
3. Fat Ass Challenge. OK, as I type this I am eating holiday M&Ms. So how badly do I need this challenge? I would like to shed 20 lbs but I can’t seem to get off my fat ass, so this will be an ongoing battle. It used to be easy for me to blink and lose 10 lbs. But I had a year of disability during which I moped, and did not exercise, and the blub has settled. I gotta move my ass. That’s all there is to it. And stop eating candy, fer crap’s sake. Willpower, my ass. Literally.
4. Garden Production. I have a garden and some chickens. So what? I’d like to know how much my little farm is producing and what that is worth to me in the food budget. So I made a spreadsheet for that, too. I stole the idea from the Dervaes family of Little House in the Suburbs — they are some fine folks and I recommend you check in on them once in a while to see how you could make your suburban plot of land completely arable and productive. They chart their progress and I shall, too.
This ends up in the plus column, because if I am getting eggs at the rate of 3 a day, then I am saving $10 a week by not buying 2 dozen organic brown eggs. My eggs and veggies are worth something, and not just their own intrinsic value. They are worth barter or trade value as well. If I trade eggs for something instead of cash, so much the better.
5. Meal Planning. I was given a month-by-month desk calendar that no one else wanted and it seemed perfect as a meal-planning calendar. I have been planning meals a week at a time for a while but this helps me keep track of what we eat all month, and I can look back to see what we ate last month, etc. This is not just about budgeting and keeping our health on track. I am also trying to eliminate food waste in the house, and using leftovers or using up what we have is easier if there’s a plan for it, and you know what you’re doing day to day. I know how my brain works, and if I don’t know by noon what is for dinner, then it is not happening. I get slower and slower and lazier and more lethargic — maybe just more tired — as they day ebbs, and I will end up ordering a pizza ($10-$20) or Chinese ($35) or sushi ($50) if I don’t plan and stick to it. So how often can I blow my budget with sushi? Not much, if I intend to get us $25K this year. It’s all part of a Master Plan.
This week’s menu includes finishing up the holiday ham. We didn’t eat much of it when The Vegan was here, but she went back to NY so we’re eating meat again. We had mac-n-cheese-n-ham bits on Monday. I made a ham-yellow pepper-cheese frittata in the oven in my cast iron skillet tonight, and tomorrow will be white bean soup with the last of the ham. The beans are doing a passive soak overnight.
6. Coupon Saving. Yes. I’m one of the crazy coupon ladies. But I’m a clever crazy one. I don’t buy sh*t that we don’t eat. I don’t buy cleaning supplies and Airwick candles. I don’t buy Pampers. There are TONS of coupons out there for that kind of crap. However, with judicious use of coupons for real food (plain cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt, veggies, cat food, health foods), and combining with store sales and rebates, I saved easily 40% on my grocery bills the second half of 2010. Our Christmas was one of the “richest” ever, despite spending less, because of coupons, sales, rebates and deals. So…I started a spreadsheet to track my savings. What I don’t blow on paying full price at the store will go into the savings column on my Master Plan spreadsheet. If I save 40% every week, that’s a significant amount of money not wasted at the store, and that we can spend on debt reduction, investing elsewhere, and so on. It’s a Master Plan, I tell you. (cue evil laughter)
7. Homemade Throwdown. Damn that Max Wong. She challenged us on The Compact to an ALL HOMEMADE year. Make it or fake it til you make it. No buying gifts, etc. Make it all. EEE-gads. Well, OK. I guess I can do that. So watch for this goofy little challenge to rear its ugly head somewhere in the future, probably when I’m drooling to buy something that I could make but am feeling lazy. Like pizza. Or some cute vintage red Italian pumps.
Are seven challenges enough? Yes. But wait…there’s one more.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.